OSHA Issues Report on Nevada’s Program, Plans to Review All State Programs

OSHA released a report on Nevada’s occupational safety and health program that reveals a number of serious concerns with the program’s operation, including failure to issue appropriate willful and repeat citations, poorly trained inspectors and lack of follow-up to determine whether hazards were abated. The comprehensive evaluation of the Nevada OSHA plan points to an urgent need for corrections in oversight and changes in all phases of its workplace safety and health program.

Twenty-five workers were killed in construction accidents at sites along the Las Vegas strip from January 2008 through June 2009. Those deaths, in addition to extensive media coverage revealing Nevada OSHA’s poor handling of the fatality investigations and several serious complaints filed with federal OSHA about Nevada’s state plan administration, compelled OSHA’s investigation.

“The safety of workers must be priority one, and the U.S. Department of Labor is stepping up review of state OSHA plans to ensure that is the case,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “I am pleased that Nevada OSHA cooperated fully throughout the evaluation process and that the state agency’s new leadership has pledged to take prompt corrective action.”

Between July and August 2009, OSHA monitors evaluated Nevada’s workplace fatality investigations, as well as information from all Nevada OSHA inspections conducted from January 2008 through June 2009. OSHA identified a number of systemic issues that caused great concern: Identified hazards were not cited, families of deceased workers were not notified of fatality investigations nor provided opportunities to speak to investigators – though family members may provide information pertinent to a case, and Nevada OSHA investigators demonstrated limited knowledge of construction safety hazards.

Other State Plans

The details of OSHA’s Nevada report raised concerns about OSHA’s monitoring of all state plan states. Jordan Barab, the Labor Department’s acting Assistant Secretary for OSHA, added, “As a result of the deficiencies identified in Nevada OSHA’s program and this administration’s goal to move from reaction to prevention, we will strengthen the oversight, monitoring and evaluation of all state programs.”

Barab also pointed out the benefits of state programs: “Many state programs have shown they have the flexibility to deal with workplace hazards that are sometimes not addressed by federal OSHA, and we strongly support their initiative and dedication.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 encourages states to develop and operate their own job safety and health programs. Federal OSHA approves and monitors the state plans and provides up to 50 percent of an approved plan’s operating costs. Nevada, one of 27 states and American territories approved to operate its own safety and health enforcement program, has been a state plan state since December 1973.

Nevada’s Response

Nevada OSHA responded to the report, pointed out the agency is now under new leadership and pledged to make improvements.

“The Nevada OSHA leadership and staff are committed to resolving the deficiencies identified in this report. While the Special Study process focuses on areas in need of improvement, it provides an independent review of critical elements in the Nevada OSHA program which will aid management in developing and implementing corrective action plans. Nevada OSHA action plans will create a training and standardization unit to manage the training and improve the competency of our enforcement staff,” the response stated.

“Our goal is to revitalize the staff, mend fences with our partners, restore public confidence in the agency, and to perform thorough, legally sufficient inspections that will stand the scrutiny of the review process. Nevada OSHA is committed to enhancing its operations so we are better prepared to address the worker safety and health concerns in the State of Nevada.”

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